I need to have happiness in my life.
I deserve to have it, like everyone else.
Athlete or non-athlete.
Adult, non-adult, or something in between.
The first time I achieved something important, I was 17 years old: too young to really be an adult, but with too many miles on my legs to still feel like a kid.
There were already so many dawns of fatigue, stuffed in my backpack.
That season, I had broken my thumb and I dind’t compete at all.
I healed just in time to take part in the last event of the year, a national sprint, a race I had never tried before.
I pushed myself at the limit, with my legs and arms: everything I had, without doing any reasoning, without having any expectations.
I ended the qualification with the second best time, surprising myself, before the others. From 82nd in the nation to second, from unknown to a name that others were forced to read, intrigued, at the top of the scoreboard.
Then, the real sprint specialists shifted gears and I went out in the semifinals. I know this because, today, I’m one of them.
But the feeling that weekend, completed by fourth place in the skiathlon the following day, was huge.
It gave meaning to the work done so far, to Grandpa's training, to the sweat.
It made me realize that I could be like my childhood idols.
It was an epiphany, and as such it has remained in my memory.
However, and this is perhaps a strange fact, more than the race and the taste of satisfaction, what I really remember from that weekend is the time spent with my lifelong friends, who were also skiers like me.
Togheter in our room, in an austere hotel full of professional, consummate athletes, full of committed people, to-do lists, precise agendas and lactic acid, there in the middle, we were enjoying the lightness of our years.
While everyone weighed to the gram what they had to eat, we drank hot chocolate.
While everyone was resting we were running through the halls knocking on each other's doors, and then running away.
While everyone lived for skiing, we let the exact opposite happen.
That moment, that hotel, that sport: everything was there for us.
To make us happy, to have fun.
And that's when I realized that the only way I could try to sustain results like the ones I got that weekend was to keep being who I am.
Because I need to have happiness, in my life.
The lightness is given me, first of all, by the discipline itself.
When I was a kid I wanted to be a soccer player, then my mom pointed out to me that a soccer player cannot only be powerful: he must also be resilient and run for 90 minutes without ever stopping.
Although I made my life a concentrate of sacrifice, snow and ice, that explanation, strangely, was good enough for me.
It seemed perfectly logical to me, and so I focused on cross-country skiing.
Cross-country skiing had always been my mirage, my moment of peace with the universe.
I never thought I would get far.
I dreamed of it.
But it was one of those distant, sweetly excessive, dreams.
Like children who want to be an astronaut, become the President of the United States or a great actor: there was no arrivism in my desire, no ulterior motivation.
There was no plan.
I imagined becoming like Petter Northug, perhaps becoming Petter Northug himself, with his steel muscles, his square jaw, and the medals hanging around his neck.
Once, at school, I pretended to have a really bad stomach ache so that Mom could pick me up and I could watch his World Championships race on television.
Cross-country skiing was what moved my soul, and I owe this to my spirit, my family, and the instructors I was lucky enough to meet.
From the first time I put skis on my feet, I always found myself on teams built with the right motivation, led by coaches whose sole purpose was to make everyone feel part of a group.
Before they made me a good athlete, before they made me learn classic and free technique, their goal was to make me have fun, to make me feel like I belonged.
It‘s no accident that my best friends are still the ones who started skiing with me, and it’s also no accident that I am still in love with the discipline.
Because sport is a tool for learning about the world, preparing you for what will happen as you grow up, confronting you with your true colors.
Exams, interviews, tests: sports puts them in front of you right away, from the very first moment and teaches you to come to terms with mistakes and failures.
It reveals who you are, especially to yourself.
Many people, when they reach 30, begin to regret not having done more. They find that work becomes the life clock, and what you might have done before at will, now demands all the scraps of your time.
Playing sports becomes a luxury, and like all luxuries it is very expensive.
So, I’m immensely grateful to those who first showed me the inherent beauty of it, which transcends success, achievement and even talent.
Anyway, with my grandfather, it was only a matter of time before I fell in love with cross-country skiing. It was written in destiny.
I remember when he would pick me up from school and take me to the snow, where we would build our jumps and rings.
He doesn't talk much, Grandpa.
He is a shy man.
But what little he says is also what little is needed, because life is a game of reputations: the less you tell me, the more carefully I listen.
The truth, whatever it may be, lies in the palm of an hand.
He and Grandma are the living expression of a different, yet friendly generation. Distant and ancient, yet incredibly modern.
They did more, with little.
They earned everything the hard way, in a time when there was nothing, but they never lost their sense of play, of sharing, of perspective.
My grandmother continues to bake my bread, every day.
Grandpa, since he became my coach, has not stopped writing my programs. At 80, he doesn't miss a day, he reads, he studies with the vehemence of a young boy. He gets on planes, travels the World, writes pages of exercises, scolds me, motivates me.
He coaches me.
He never stops teaching what he knows, or asking me for what I know.
With him are also my father, who follows me on every move, and my mother; my siblings and childhood friends: everything is crystallized in time, while continuing to progress.
Like an ice train, eating up the tracks ahead.
Maybe that is why I’m a happy boy.
My childhood dream has become a shared journey, and between the folds of this dialogue I can also protect myself from the risks of a life of sports.
The risks of failure and defeat, which may well come, but which will not scratch the love of those who work with me.
Failure, sooner or later, is sure to come, because the very nature of sport is built on it, and like it, loneliness, weariness, doubt can also come.
If you are not getting better, then you are getting worse: that's how everything works.
When people talk about a technology, it means it is already obsolete.
When you get to the top, everyone tries to copy you, just like I did with Northug: when I became his teammate did nothing but follow him and his advice.
But a copy is still a copy, and to cross unexplored gates you cannot afford to look like someone else. You have to do it barefaced.
So many people have opinions about what I should do, how I should train or how I should feel after an Olympics. But it’s the opinion of others that should be forgotten first, relying on those who know you, those who want the best for you.
With Grandpa we always take these big goals, like the Milano Cortina Olympics, finally my first in Europe, or like the 2025 World Championships in Trondheim, which will be held 5 kilometers from our home, and we chop them up.
We carve them up, turning them into little steps.
And on those steps we climb together, one by one, trying not to be too hard on ourselves and to accept what the mind and body have to give, day by day.
It’s difficult, and often requires an act of strength.
An act of solitude.
This year, for example, I will be the only Norwegian male athlete to train at high altitude, in Livigno, because even though the federation preferred to avoid it, I know how important it is for me and for my achievements.
I know that it can make a difference.
And if that means being alone, carrying the full weight of my training and especially my choices, that's okay too.
Because my family is here, and they, under the suit of the Olympic champion, continue to see also their son, their grandson, their brother.
And it will always be that way.
Athlete or non-athlete.
Adult, non-adult, or something in between.